Books

A Window Into the Marcellus

“Heat and Light,” the latest novel from western Pennsylvania native Jennifer Haigh, has tandem virtues. It possesses not only the urgent feel of a story “ripped from the headlines,” as they say, but also the grace and insight of American literary fiction for the ages. The Marcellus Shale boom in Pennsylvania has been examined at …

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Neither, Either, Or

If you want to explore the vexing subject of global climate change, Seamus McGraw is the guy to have as a tour guide. He will not torture your brain with elaborate science, tax your patience with lectures about evil consumer habits, or bash you over the head with partisan arguments. Instead, he takes you to …

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4 reads for the Pittsburgh winter

Theresa Brown, a nurse from Point Breeze, is already nationally known for her 2010 nursing memoir “Critical Care” and years of writing online for The New York Times about her profession. Brown’s new book, “The Shift,” should cement her reputation as a reliable and compassionate explainer of modern American heath care for the general public. …

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The long way home

Lori Jakiela has the essential quality for a memoirist with a tale of trauma to tell: empathy for the reader. She makes her anguish entertaining. But based on the engaging voice, underlying humor and clarity of her adoption memoir “Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe,” I bet she would do the same for …

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Imagination Motel: Pomes With Many Bags of Buttered Popcorn and Big Pepsis

The word “legendary” was built for Chuck Kinder. The heart and soul of the University of Pittsburgh writing program for years, he entered legend as the inspiration for the main character of “Wonder Boys,” the hit novel by his former student Michael Chabon. He fulfills the legend of the novelist with the story so big …

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Timeless & Unremembered

Gladys Schmitt is a wonderful Pittsburgh writer you have probably not read. If so, the time has come for that to change. “The Collected Stories of Gladys Schmitt,” assembled with care by Carnegie Mellon University Press, presents 20 stories that she published in popular and literary journals, mainly between the early 1930s and late 1950s. …

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The Fading Light

Stewart O’Nan’s novel “West of Sunset,” based on the final tragic years of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, took some nerve to write. Would you like to get into the ring with one of the greatest figures in American literature and try to describe what’s going on in his alcoholic head and distressed heart? But …

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The road back

Jennifer Matesa, a writer living in Friendship, was a well-dressed, middle-class junkie. She didn’t score from shady dealers in back alleys, though. Her supplier was the pharmaceutical industry. Starting about 10 years ago, this self-described “white soccer mom” got hooked on pain-killers after seeking legitimate treatment for chronic pain. Vulnerable from a family history of …

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Apocalypse Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers have long boasted that, in the heat of the Cold War, our role as an industrial power made us the Russians’ No. 1 nuclear target. It was a counterweight to our role as a national punchline for being a sooty dump. Thomas Sweterlitsch is not a Pittsburgh native, but he must have absorbed this …

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Bend of the ‘burgh

Pittsburgh has enjoyed some nice national media buzz in recent years. We’re so livable, we’re hipper than Portland, we’re the next foodie destination. But Pittsburgher Jacob Bacharach’s debut novel could blast the city’s profile into an otherworldly dimension. “The Bend of the World”—a highly enjoyable comedy of modern manners—imagines our cozy town as the fulcrum …

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The working man novelist

Dave Newman is a hard-working and funny writer who embodies an everyman Pittsburgh spirit with all of his ample heart. His latest novels—the brand-new “Two Small Birds” and “Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children” (2012)—show him succeeding at the goal which his autobiographical protagonist, Dan Charles, declares at one of the many turning points …

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Glory daze

In this season of Steelers discontent, Gary Pomerantz offers rattled fans some balm. “Their Life’s Work” is a thoroughly reported and clearly written account of the Steelers’ sensational ’70s, framed through the “brotherhood” of the players and their interplay with the owners. Based on more than 250 interviews over three years, Pomerantz retells the Steelers …

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The social wasteland

Themes of social, psychological and emotional isolation have been the stock in trade of American writers for as long as the concept of a national literature—and the elusive Great American Novel—have existed, variously attributed to religion, race, politics, drugs, wars, fragmented families, generation gaps and gender issues. Now Michael Bishop, the callow protagonist of Salvatore …

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The Sentimental Anarchists

Sentimentality is not often associated with terrorism, yet authors Paul and Karen Averich display an unmistakable nostalgia for the so-called first American Age of Terror in their wildly sympathetic history, “Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman.” Once upon a time, they tell us, violence actually meant something, great literature …

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Ecce homo!

Feeling discouraged? Lacking self esteem? Skip the self-help books and read “Last Ape Standing” instead. Subtitled “The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived,” this engaging précis of recent developments in paleoanthropology is imbued with enough enthusiasm for evolution to cheer and inspire even the most miserable Homo sapiens. Author Chip Walter, a Pittsburgh …

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A tragedy for the ages

I don’t think anybody can get a handle on what makes me tick… without understanding what I learned from the deep relationship I formed with Virgil,” wrote the late Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno in his 1997 autobiography, “Paterno: By the Book.” The remark refers without irony to the affinity he felt for …

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Creepy creatures!

Given the prevalence of vampires and werewolves in contemporary culture, one wonders why it has taken so long for them to reach the Pittsburgh area. (We’re a world-class city, dammit!) With typically gray skies and an abundance of abandoned steelworks and subterranean coal mines, our region possesses a strong Gothic quality that ought to be …

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Divorce in Morningside

Hallelujah! at last, there is a novel about contemporary divorce that eschews shallow revenge-fantasy clichés of dream jobs, boytoys and boob jobs in favor of a thoughtful, balanced and gently humorous representation of the end of a marriage. Local author Jane McCafferty laudably transcends melodrama in “First You Try Everything” to marvel with unaffected wonder …

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A different Jonas

Well, it’s official: the end is near. Whether or not the dire Mayan predictions for the future of mankind come to pass in 2012, it is clear that time is running out for books.The sad inevitability of this is demonstrated both by the ascendancy of electronic readers and the proliferation of materials promoting new uses for …

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Black Humor

“See you in the funny papers” is a phrase one seldom hears these days. Indeed, with the possible exception of “Daddy-O” or “23 Skidoo,” few expressions seem more obscure.But once upon a time, when newspapers were the Internet of their day, conversational reference to the funnies was the equivalent of an emoticon.

Big Business Now and Then

Be careful what you wish for” is the adage that best applies to the McGraw family and their neighbors on the failed and failing dairy farms northwest of Scranton, Pa. After generations of scraping by, their dreams are finally poised to come true, now that corporate prospectors have come calling, offering buckets of cash in …

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The Tao of Emily

Readers, rejoice! Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, not everything in the world is getting worse. Novelist Stewart O’Nan, for instance, just keeps getting better and better. The Point Breeze native has long been noted for his use of beautiful, unpretentious prose to document the lives of ordinary people dealing with losses such as deaths, …

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